The Pale Ale: A Brief History

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To start of the new year we wanted to give you all a little insight into the history of the Pale Ale, seeing as how it’s not only our flagship beer but also generally regarded as the beer style that launched the modern craft beer movement.

It’s a long and fascinating story that intertwines technology, progressing tastes, reinvention and a heroic comeback. Maybe one day they will make a Hollywood film about the Pale Ale…. maybe not but we are gonna give you a brief overview of where the humble Pale Ale started and how it came to be the very essence of the craft beer movement.

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By ArnOlson (Own Work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Remarkably enough for a beer that first appeared in English pubs around the end of the 17th Century the birth of the Pale Ale was only possible due to a technological innovation. Until this point the beers available in an English tavern would all have been dark beers. This is because in order to brew beer you must roast grains, this process converts the starches present in the grains into sugars required for fermentation.

Until the middle of the 17th century the only way to roast malts was literally to roast them basically without control. This resulted in heavily roasted malts that imbued the beer with the dark colour they had taken on during roasting and also the chocolate, coffee flavours we now generally associated with Stouts and Porters.

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Peter Schill [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The innovation of using Coke in the malting process not only allowed for a paler malt and therefore a paler beer but also began the process of controlling smoke flavours present in beer. Due to the use of wood, straw or in some cases fern beers prior to this innovation would generally have been pretty smokey to taste.

The Pale Ale was an instant hit amongst the beer swilling English but particularly found fame through a certain area of the country. Still to this day brewers wistfully talk about Burton Pale Ales and in particular Burton water. The chemical make up, specifically the high level of sulphates naturally present in the water and the clarity of the water from this area, are particularly good for brewing Pale Ales. One of the advantages Burton water had over carbonate London water at the time was that it enabled a greater bittering of the beer through hops. It is at this point we can see tastes moving towards more bitterness in beers. As a result of this it became common practice for brewers to treat their water in a method that became known as “Burtonisation

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By Alf van Beem (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Not only the water in the Burton Ales was important to its success, its position on the newly opened Trent and Mersey Canal in 1777 gave it access to major cities and ports, this coupled with the expanding British Empire allowed Burton Pale Ale to become synonymus with British beer during the industrial revolution and the formation of the British Empire. During this period the style inevitably arrived in North America but post prohibition was all but extinct until Anchor Brewing came along.

 

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Image Courtesy of Anchor Brewing Co.

 

In 1975 Anchor Brewing released the “Liberty Ale” what is generally seen as being the first modern American Pale Ale. What we in Germany and generally everyone outside of Great Britain now think of as a Pale Ale is a very different beast to the beer we have been talking about. Liberty Ale was directly inspired by British Pale Ales with owner Fritz Maytag and Gordon Macdermott the General Manager visiting England and English breweries for inspiration and advice. However one important ingredient was substitued and this „small“ change was to have a big impact.

The major difference was once again inspired by locality. Instead of using traditional English hops which have a lower bitterness and a more earthy flavour Anchor used a very new aroma hop called Cascade, not only that but they used a lot of it. Cascade is the cornerstone of our Pale Ale and in our opinion is the cornerstone of almost every great, classic American Pale Ale. Citrusy and bitter with a spicy note the flavour profile perfectly frames the malt backbone of a classic Pale Ale.

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By michaelstyne (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Liberty Ale was not an instant hit with the Lager drinking public of North America at the time but the Cascade hop in particular would not go away, New Albion Brewing Company brewed a Cascade heavy Pale Ale a year later and in 1980 Sierra Nevada released their now world famous cascade forward Pale Ale. In 1983 Liberty Ale came back as a regular option from Anchor and both the Cascade hop and American Pale as a style were the battering rams in the first wave of the modern craft beer movement.

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When we were creating our Pale Ale these beers were our inspiration, we wanted to create a classic, delicious Pale Ale with a well balanced bitterness and hop profile and a dangerous drinkability. The Pale Ale has throughout history in its different guises and locations been the go to drink for the discerning beer drinker and long may it continue.

So there you have it, from a technological advance as a result of the industrial revolution, via an American entrepreneur of German descent and ending with a German Brewery and an American Brewmaster, there is the possibly not so brief (sorry) story of how the Berliner Berg Pale Ale was inspired into being. Now if you don’t mind all this take of Pale Ale has made us thirsty… If only we had some nearby ; )

 

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